28 October 2016
Ernest Newman memorably described Granados’ Goyescas as giving one ‘the voluptuous sense of passing the ﬁangers through masses of richly coloured jewels… They are piano music of the purest kind.’ Inspired by the 18th-century artist Goya, they celebrate the loves and deaths of the majos and majas (ﬂamboyantly dressed plebeian gallants and their belles). For Granados the majos ‘pink and white cheeks against lace and black Velvet, those tight-waisted bodies, hands of jasmine and mother-of-pearl resting on jet trinkets all of these things dazzled and possessed me? The Goyescczs’ ‘great ﬂights of imagination and diﬂiculty’ (Granados again) have also dazzled and possessed pianists sufﬁciently intrepid and exploratory to master music which makes a virtue of luxuriance rather than economy, of a seemingly limitless improvisatory blossoming. I do not mean to sound churlish, but Alicia de Laryocha’s unforgettable performances, whether live or in the studio, have hung like an albatross around the necks of all other pianists (Arrau, no less, confessed that the gave up on Spanish music after hearing her). Has anyone matched that razor—sharp articulation, that maintenance of a ‘singing’ line While relishing a kaleidoscope of colour together with every harmonic and rhythmic piquancy?
Nonetheless, there are other Voices to consider, and Joop Celis, turning from his superb York Bowen series on Chandos, plays with a caressing ease and naturalness in music requiring a special warmth and flexibility. The ﬂuid give and take of his rubato — his musical breathing — is beguiling and he is more than equal to every demand, clarifying and refining every complex texture. He is even more engaging in the relatively gentle musings of the Escerzas poeticas, with their amusing prophecy of ‘love is a many splendored thing’ and with Margarita’s hesitant and unresolved song. The Intermezzo from the Goyescas as an opera is a more than enterprising addition, and Celis’s Elpelele brings everything to a gloriously ebullient close.
Javier Negrin takes a radically different view of Granados and you could hardly accuse him of understatement as he underlines the Goyescas’ agony and ecstasy. At times overbearing, he revels in ﬁerectly ignited passions, playing as if his life depends on every note (try the Appassionata before the concluding Allegretto from ‘Coloquio en la reja’ where he sets the keyboard ablaze). In the ‘Epilogue’ he is again vivid and intense, while for his encore he gives us Mompou’s Variations sur un theme de Chopin, where the A major Prelude’s brevity expands into a series of deeply affectionate memories. Mazurkas and Etudes surface through the haze of Mompou’s magic, while Variation No 8 is a reminder of Poulenc’s tendresse.
Both these issues are of absorbing interest, but for true stature in the Goyescas Alicia de Larrocha reigns supreme, whether on her EMI Classics reissue or her later Decca recording.
International Piano Bryce Morrison